The study was conducted by Bournemouth University and formed part of its Responsible Gambling projects, presenting the results of four separate studies.
The first was an initial scoping review to map the extent and diversity of peer-reviewed academic research into online gambling, including safer gambling practices. There was also a narrative review of transparency and a systematic review of transparency in safer gambling. Finally, the studies included a content analysis of transparency present in UK gambling operator websites.
Core findings from the study included that although all the websites displayed the legally required age warnings, and icons and links to safer gambling organisations, there were some concerns as to how this information was shown.
Researchers flagged that due to the way that sites are designed for mobile versus desktop browsers, information can be harder to find on mobile browsers. It was also noted safer gambling information was most often presented using text and icons, rather than images or video.
Many websites were also found to be using text or icons to link to either dedicated safer gambling pages or external sources of information, though some had icons without links.
Safer gambling webpages were generally designed as separate from the main site and provided what researchers said was a “positive” experience for users, but signposting to these pages was often “quite poor and inconsistent”.
In addition, it was noted that most of the operators looked at in the study did not provide Covid-related information to players.
As such, the research team presented a series of recommendations to improve accessibility for consumers in the future. This included a recommendation that operators collaborate with each other, safer gambling organisations and academia to reduce harm.
By doing this, researchers said operators could use a wider range of data to promote safer gambling and minimise harm, bringing together industry, academics and behaviour change experts to create safer gambling information and tools.
This collaboration, researchers said, would also support long-term studies to build evidence for the effectiveness of interventions; help provide information accurately and responsibly; deliver information about games that is targeted at common misunderstandings; and offer safer gambling information in an accessible manner.
The study added that by working together, this would allow for further research into the relationship between gaming and gambling, including whether involvement in gaming is correlated with later problem gambling.
The research team also put forward recommendations to improve transparency, including ensuring safer gambling links and icons on gambling websites are clear and prominent, with icons having clear, obvious, working links to safer gambling information.
It was also recommended that operators ensure content is not relegated to the bottom of webpages, and the text should be the same size as the rest of the web content. Mobile versions of website should also carry safer gambling content at the top of the page and that consumers should be clearly signposted to a variety of external sites and groups and organisations.
In addition, the report noted that safer gambling content is often presented in a way that is “boring, text-heavy and hard to engage with”. As such, it was recommended that operators instead use videos and image, make the information consistent with the look and feel of the rest of the website, an consider personalising information using web tracking data.
The report added that further research is required to understand how players engage with gambling sites, especially in relation to safety and that existing research has methodological limitations.
Researchers suggested eye-tracking as a technique, saying this has potential to help address these questions. This, the report said, provides a non-intrusive tool to assess the usability of websites and could help to understand how users engage with safer gambling information on websites; this would help improve the usability and accessibility of that information.
“This report makes some important recommendations for gambling operators to place greater focus and importance on safer gambling messages on their websites and ensure people are aware of the risks,” GambleAware chief executive Zoë Osmond said.
“This research serves as further proof that we need to see the gambling white paper published as soon as possible to avoid further gambling harm.”